The power of a Christ-filled life

In his interview with CADRE David Marshall stressed the overriding importance of evangelizing by example through a life of integrity and faithfulness to the Gospel. A fascinating survey published in Christianity Today lends credence to his views. The authors sent out a questionaire to about 750 Muslim converts over the past 15 years asking about the reasons the converted to Christianity. The main reason given was the lifestyle of Christians whom they encountered: "A North African former Sufi mystic noted with approval that there was no gap between the moral profession and the practice of Christians he saw." This is something which the New Atheists so conveniently overlook in their tirades against the inhumanity performed in the name of religion. Many Christians (gasp, surprise) actually do obey their Master's command to love enemies and minister to the poor. And they are not limited to 'exceptional' Christians like Mother Teresa. In fact, it is probably safe to say that most of the truly shining examples of living an authentically Christian life go unnoticed, except by those whose lives are changed as a result.

Equally interesting is that the next major factor listed was the power of God in healing, exorcism, and in dreams of guidance. Elsewhere on Vic Reppert's blog I have noted the fallacy of some skeptics who ask why miracles seem only to have happened in the distant past (the lively exchanges me and Jason had with Ed Babinski and others also make good reading:). The truth is that many missionaries continue to report miraculous healings and exorcisms around the world (A missionary couple even showed a DVD recording of an exorcism which involved their own ministry in Africa, during their visit to Princeton University). It goes without saying that these reports need to be carefully scrutinized, but the mass of evidence which should be taken into account is considerable, as other scholars have also noted. Moreover, the fact that many Muslims experience dreams about Jesus before they convert seems to refute the idea that all religious experience is culturally conditioned (one would expect a Muslim to hear Jesus denying that he ever claimed to be equal to the Father, as he does in the Qur'an!).


Kzer-za said…
This makes me think about one of the saddest things with Christianity in America today: It has essentially reduced morality and Christian living to little more than sexual ethics. That's part of Christian morality, but it's so much more than that - our ethics should be defined by far more than what we think people should not do. And I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to matters like giving to the poor.
Ron said…
Does anyone think it's strange that there are many reported miracles in third world countries but nothing really happening here?
(By here I mean America)

Is it because those people are more superstituous while we are more enlightened? Or is there something else going on?
Layman said…

Great post. Thanks.

One problem with many atheists' approach to the issue is that they seem to think that God should have presented the evidence just as they would like to see it laid out. But what God did, while IMO respecting man's free will, has resulted in Christianity being the majority belief system on the planet. Is God more concerned with meeting certain post-hoc atheist demands for proof or in reaching people in the ways that will convince them?

At least decent questions, I think.
John W. Loftus said…
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John W. Loftus said…
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Layman said…
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John W. Loftus said…
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Layman said…

Your comments are under heightened scrutiny at present in part because of your excessive spamming of links to your own site that involve little or not argumentation.
John W. Loftus said…
Okay then, no links. I'll post my comments here.

Layman said...One problem with many atheists' approach to the issue is that they seem to think that God should have presented the evidence just as they would like to see it laid out.

All we ask is what reasonable people should ask. We ask that the evidence and reasons to believe support what we are supposed to believe.

Let’s say the Christian faith is true and Jesus did arise from the dead. Let’s say that even though Christianity must punt to mystery and retreat into the realm of mere possibilities to explain itself that it is still true, contrary to what my (God given?) mind leads me to believe. Then what would it take to convince me?

I would need sufficient reasons to overcome my objections, and I would need sufficient evidence to lead me to believe. By “sufficient” here, I mean reasons and evidence that would overcome my skepticism. I am predisposed to reject the Christian faith and the resurrection of Jesus (just as Christians are predisposed to reject atheism). So I need sufficient reasons and evidence to overcome my skeptical predisposition.

When it comes to sufficient reasons, I need to be able to understand more of the mysteries of Christianity in order to believe it. If everything about Christianity makes rational sense to an omniscient God, then God could’ve created human beings with more intelligence so that the problems of Christianity are much more intellectually solvable than they are. I would need to have a better way of understanding such things as the trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, and why a good God allows so much intense suffering even to the point of casting human beings into hell.

Short of God creating us with more intelligence to understand his “mysteries,” God could’ve explained his ways to us. He could’ve written the “mother of all philosophical papers” by answering such problems as, “why there is something rather than nothing at all?”, why people deserve to end up in hell, and questions about the atonement, the trinity, divine simplicity, the incarnation, the relationship of free-will and foreknowledge, and how it’s possible for a spiritual being to interact with a material world. He could’ve explained why there is such suffering in this world if he exists. He could’ve explained why he remains hidden and yet condemns us for not finding him in this life. He could’ve helped us understand how it’s possible to want all people to be saved and yet not help people come to a saving knowledge. Christians born into their faith inside an already Christian culture may claim God has explained the things necessary, but for most people in the world he didn’t explain enough. Because he has not done enough to help us understand these things, he is partially to blame for those who do not believe, especially if he knew in advance that people wouldn’t believe unless he had done so.

Short of helping us to understand these “mysteries,” the only thing left is to give us more evidence to believe, and less evidence to disbelieve. Let me offer some examples of what I mean.

Scientific evidence. God could’ve made this universe and the creatures on earth absolutely unexplainable by science, especially since science is the major obstacle for many to believe. He could’ve created us in a universe that couldn’t be even remotely figured out by science. That is to say, there would be no evidence leading scientists to accept a big bang, nor would there be any evidence for the way galaxies, solar systems, or planets themselves form naturalistically. If God is truly omnipotent he could’ve created the universe instantaneously by fiat, and placed planets haphazardly around the sun, some revolving counter-clockwise and in haphazard orbits. The galaxies themselves, if he created any in the first place, would have no consistent pattern of formation at all. Then when it came to creatures on earth God could’ve created them without any connection whatsoever to each other. Each species would be so distinct from each other that no one could ever conclude natural selection was the process by which they have arisen. There would be no hierarchy of the species in gradual increments. There would be no rock formations that showed this evolutionary process because it wouldn’t exist in the first place. Human beings would be seen as absolutely special and distinct from the rest of the creatures on earth such that no scientist could ever conclude they evolved from the lower primates. There would be no evidence of unintelligent design, since the many signs of unintelligent design cancel out the design argument for the existence of God. God didn’t even have to create us with brains, if he created us with minds. The existence of this kind of universe and the creatures in it could never be explained by science apart from the existence of God.

Biblical Evidence. Someone could’ve made a monument to Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden that still exists and is scientifically dated to the dawn of time. There would be overwhelming evidence for a universal flood covering "all" mountains. Noah’s ark would be found exactly where the Bible says, and it would be exactly as described in the Bible. The location of Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt, would still be miraculously preserved and known by scientific testing to have traces of human DNA in it. There would be non-controversial evidence that the Israelites lived as slaves in Egypt for four hundred years, conclusive evidence that they wandered in the wilderness for forty years, and convincing evidence that they conquered the land of Canaan exactly as the Bible depicts. But there is none. I could go on and on, but you get the point. That is, there would be evidence of miracles, and not just that the particular places and people described in the Bible existed. Plus, there would be no Bible difficulties such that a 450 page book needed to be written explaining them away, as Gleason Archer did.

Prophetic Evidence. God could’ve predicted any number of natural disasters (if he didn’t have the power to create a better world which lacked them). He could’ve predicted when Mt. St. Helens would erupt, or when the Indonesian tsunami or hurricane Katrina would destroy so much. It would save lives and confirm he is God. Then too, he could’ve predicted the rise of the internet, or the inventions of the incandescent light bulb, Television, or the atomic bomb, and he could do it using non-ambiguous language that would be seen by all as a prophectic fulfillment. God could’ve predicted several things that would take place in each generation in each region of the earth, so that each generation and each region of the earth would have confirmation that he exists through prophecy. God could've told people about the vastness and the complexity of the universe before humans would have been able to confirm it (if he didn’t create it haphazardly as I suggested earlier). He could have predicted the discovery of penicillin, which has saved so many lives, and if predicted it would have speeded up its discovery.

Present Day Evidence. God could visit us in every age, and do the same miracles he purportedly did in Jesus. If this causes people to want to kill him all over again and he doesn’t need to die again, he could just vanish. Also, Christians would be overwhelmingly better people by far. And God would answer their prayers in such distinctive ways that even those who don’t believe would seek out a Christian to pray for them and their illness or problem. Scientific studies done on prayer would meet with overwhelming confirmation. We wouldn’t see such religious diversity which is divided up over the world into distinct geographical locations and adopted based upon when and where we were born.

Evidence specific to the resurrection. There would be clear and specific prophecies about the virgin birth, life, nature, mission, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus in the Old Testament that could not be denied by even the most hardened skeptic. As it is there is no Old Testament prophecy that is to be considered a true prophecy that points to any of these things in any non-ambiguous way. Many professed Christian scholars think these Old Testament prophecies do not predict anything specific about Jesus and/or do not point specifically to him. The Gospel accounts of the resurrection would all be the same, showing no evidence of growing incrementally over the years by superstitious people. The Gospels could've been written at about the same time months after Jesus arose from the dead. And there would be no implausibilites in these stories about women not telling others, or that the soldiers who supposedly guarded the tomb knew that Jesus arose even though they were asleep (how is that really possible?). Herod and Pilate would've converted because they concluded from the evidence that Jesus arose from the grave. Setting aside their respective thrones, both Herod and Pilate would've become missionaries, or declare Christianity the new religion of their territories. Such evidence like a Turin Shroud would be found which could be scientifically shown to be from Jerusalem at that time containing an image that could not be explained away except that a crucified man had come back to life.

Now, I wouldn’t require all of this to believe. I cannot say how much of this I might need to believe. But I certainly need some of it. If it were offered, I'd believe. However, if I was convinced Christianity is true and Jesus arose from the grave, and if I must believe in such a barbaric God, I would believe, yes, but I could still not worship such a barbaric God. I would fear such a Supreme Being, since he has such great power, but I'd still view him as a thug, a despicable tyrant, a devil in disguise; unless Christianity was revised.
Layman said…
The rule is not "no links," but no excessive linking. This is especially problematic when the link is tangential at best.
Layman said…
All we ask is what reasonable people should ask. We ask that the evidence and reasons to believe support what we are supposed to believe.

Gross oversimplification. As the rest of your post shows, you have very specific and detailed requirements of what the evidence should be.

Many reasonable people have found the existing evidence and reasons to lead them to Christian faith.
Jason Pratt said…

{{However, if I was convinced Christianity is true and Jesus arose from the grave, and if I must believe in such a barbaric God, I would believe, yes, but I could still not worship such a barbaric God. I would fear such a Supreme Being, since he has such great power, but I'd still view him as a thug, a despicable tyrant, a devil in disguise; unless Christianity was revised.}}

Incidentally, John, I said some very similar things myself in the Eth&t3rdPers entries I posted for the Journal, this summer. (Actually I've been saying them for years; those entries themselves are only slightly updated-in-editing from material I wrote back in early 2000.)

{{We ask that the evidence and reasons to believe support what we are supposed to believe.}}

I sympathize with that, too; and while I tend to agree with Chris that your list is rather too particular as representation of “what reasonable people should ask”, I do agree (and strenuously so) that evidence and reasons given should support what people are being asked to believe. Nor, in reverse from Chris’ critique, do I think all people should be satisfied with the sort of evidence and reasons that a 5th grader, or a modern Masaai warrior, or a 1st century Ephesian artisan, might find acceptable. (My own list runs into the hundreds, for that matter.)

I do have to say, though, that your saltationistic approach (if I may borrow a term from another discipline), of the sort that you quipped to Meta here on this journal (in another thread) and reposted with minor updates on the DebunX journal, is not realistic. It’s the sceptical equivalent of a fundy revivalist preacher thooming his Scofield down on the podium and thundering “ALL GOD’S WORD OR NOT AT ALL GOD’S WORD! {THOOM!}”

It also looks disingenuous as a reply to an offer to debate on a topic: reqiring that all particular problems you may have, all be addressed and resolved all at once immediately, as the result of any particular discussion, or else there might as well be no discussion (which is what you end up implying by putting it all into one attack-of-the-clevers run-on sentence like that), is only another way of saying that you will take no discussion (much less no debate) seriously, ever--since, as you well know, no one particular topic discussion is going to meet all those issues. Huzzah, your anti-faith is perfectly protected forever.

Yet strangely, I have never required this from you as a necessary result of any discussion; no one else here (to my knowledge) has ever required such a thing from you; Meta wasn’t requiring such a thing from you; I never have once and would never require such a result from a Buddhist or Muslim or Hindu or from any other person who doesn’t believe what I believe--I wouldn’t even require it from a Satanist.

Consequently, while it may look cute for your readers (or for some of them anyway), it only gives us ground for believing that we should never take you seriously on any single discussion again, ever.

Not that your criteria above are presented that way; they aren’t. But why should I bother addressing even one of them, when you’ve made it clear (as a way of avoiding discussion) that you’ll only accept a ‘debate’ that meets impossible topical breadth? Even if I did resolve an issue, you’d only say that this doesn’t immediately address and resolve everything at once, therefore you either won’t accept the particular resolution or would at best consider its resolution to be irrelevant. (It’s like a mere mirror image of the apologist who manages to make a point and then, thinking he’s made it, expects you to buy into the whole faith and go and be baptized. Those kinds of Christians certainly exist, but I can’t imagine that you have any respect for them as apologists, nor that you would accept the methodology in principle on any topic. Except, apparently, when...?)

If it wasn’t for that post, I would have no trouble affirming as proper your statements, “I wouldn’t require all of this to believe. I cannot say how much of this I might need to believe. But I certainly need some of it. If it were offered, I'd believe.” I have trouble reconciling the two approaches, though. (I would rather disavow the ridiculous over-requirement-of-discussion-topic post, as being a poor idea you succumbed to in a moment of overly cute wryness, or something. But if you expect your readers to take you seriously on it, then it tells me how I should interpret your sober and reasonable attitude in the sentences I just quoted.)

It’s too bad, because I could easily be sympathetic to a large portion of what you’ve said here, that you’d like to see in order to believe, but don’t see, and so don’t believe.

For specificity sake, I’ll go down the list in the order you gave. (These are only position statements on my part, not apologetical defenses per se.)

I don’t like “punting to mystery”, which incidentally isn’t even ‘mystery’ in the NT sense, though admittedly most Christians do use it the way you’re talking about “and retreating into the realm of mere possibilities”. The only such paradoxes I prefer to accept (the speculative possibilities I remain positively agnostic about), are ones I would still be prepared to accept in principle as an atheist or some other fair sceptic.

I don’t accept what my (God given) mind doesn’t lead me to believe, and I don’t expect other people, sceptics or believers either one, to do so either. (That’s different from the topic of fudging one’s belief or unbelief, but I’m not talking here about dishonest believers or unbelievers. There’s no point discussing apologetics at all in that context.)

I happen to think the problems of Christianity are much more intellecutally solvable than they are; and I happen to think God did create human beings with enough intelligence to solve the problems. (I also happen to believe the Fall occured in some real fashion, and that this has had effects in crippling our intelligence. But I believe God could have solved that in some other way much more quickly, in principle. Since He didn’t, I can make inferences about why He didn’t, based on previous things I’ve discovered about Him and His relationship to creation; but I do strongly appreciate the problem. I even blogged about it in recent months.)

If I didn’t think I sufficiently understood the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, and why a good God allows so much intense suffering, then I would (by tautology) have more problems with them, too, than I do. Consequently, I don’t blame other people when they have problems with them, resulting in a proportionate lack of belief.

I do believe in the Trinity (western filioque version {g}), the Incarnation, the Atonement (though not in the way most Christian theologians, much less laity, mean it--or don’t mean it, as it happens {lopsided g}); and I believe a good God does allow intense suffering. I also think He “casts human beings into hell”, though not the same way most other Christians mean that.

I agree that God could have written “the mother of all philosophical papers”; and that He didn’t (so far as I’ve ever heard of). I don’t agree that this would be a substitute for God creating us with more intelligence to understand those mysteries, since what would be the point of writing out such a treatise if we didn’t (and weren’t going to) have the intelligence to understand it?!

I do believe that some people “deserve to end up in hell”, though again not very similarly to the way most Christians do. I believe divine simplicity to be true (rightly understood). I believe in the relationship of free-will and foreknowledge. (Honestly, this one isn’t difficult. The problem comes from accepting a heresy, ironically. {wry g}) I have some idea of how it is possible for a “spiritual being to interact with a material world”.

I think God’s criteria for blame in “not finding Him in this life” is commensurate with the hiddeness, and is rather more general and basic than most Christians would make it out to be. Put another way, I don’t believe God blames a person for not finding Him in this life, in the fashion most Christians would assess for that blame.

I don’t think God is primarily interested in people coming to “a saving knowledge” in the sense most Christians take that to mean. I do believe God wants all people to be saved from sin (their own and others), and is going to keep working toward bringing that salvation about for as long as it takes, without ever giving up on us.

I don’t believe where people are born or what they are raised to believe, has any bearing on the fulfillment of that hope. I do believe we have an obligation to go tell people about that hope, and help them to have hope themselves; but not because God is going to zorch them if we don’t go tell them.

As it happens, I also believe God is at least partially responsible for those who do not believe; and I don’t believe He holds other people responsible for His own responsibilities in the matter, nor punishes them for His responsibilities.

I do believe that where something is considered inexplicable by Nature in principle, then it is evidence that the properties are supernatural in origin; and I do believe that where something is considered inexplicable by an atheistic reality in principle then the accepted existence of that something is thus positive evidence to reject atheism and accept not-atheism (==theism of some sort.) I put it this way in order to spare “science” from having to shoulder burdens that “science” was never going to be able to shoulder anyway (such as mathematics, upon which discipline science relies for its operation).

I believe evidence leading scientists to accept a Big Bang could in principle point toward a supernatural origin of the natural system; but I’m somewhat dubious that this evidence actually points toward such an origin, and I generally reject the attempts to hop this over from ‘supernatural’ to ‘theistic’ origin, as a category error.

I believe that if we had no evidence for astrophysical development, then by corollary we would simply believe they had always existed in more-or-less the same fashions they currently do. I do not believe I would consider this to be positive evidence for the existence of God.

I believe if God is truly omnipotent He could have created the universe any way He pleased, including instantaneously by divine fiat, or by any other fashion of progression (such as inflationing out unimaginable astronomic distances in the first fraction of a second, far faster than the apparent universal speed-limit of light. Though for what it’s worth I suspect there are calculation errors on that, based on not accounting for alterations of space-time standards during inflation. So while I’m tempted to point toward that as a blatantly supernatural even by all practical definition, I restrain myself from doing so. Plus supernatural =/= theistic, necessarily.)

I believe God could have placed planets haphazard around the Sun (much like Pluto currently is); and I believe He could have then kept them from subsequently ceasing to be planets and/or leaving the solar system instead of what did in fact apparently happen from haphazard planetary generation. But I don’t know why He would bother to do so.

I believe He could have created a group of entities with no consistent pattern of formation at all; but then I don’t know why we would be identifying them as being the same kind of thing (e.g. galaxies). We don’t consider crickets and nebulae to be the same kind of thing, and their patterns of formation are considerably different from each other.

I believe God could have created creatures without any connection whatsoever to each other (which may turn out to be the case after all, per genetics); and I believe God could have created creatures with freakishly complex effective constituencies (as is the case of all known life from viruses upward); and I believe He could have even set things up so that occasional random copy-errors in breeding-cells alone were enough to progressively create freakishly complex effective biological constituencies over time, wiith natural selection weeding out grossly unfit forms immediately (which most mutuations of that sort would create) and otherwise weeding out slightly less fit forms in favor of slightly more fit forms, slightly faster than natural competition and natural accident would tend to eliminate variations anyway regardless of relative merit or demerit before breeding to the next generation. I’m somewhat doubtful He did that, but it sure would be a great miracle. {g!} I am intensely certain that if He did do that, many people would try to regard it as being a perfectly plausible natural operation anyway. I have a suspicion He did something more naturally plausible than neo-Darwinian gradualism, but admittedly I don’t have much evidence for that to go on yet.

I believe God could have created things so that there would be no hierarchy of the species in gradual increments, and I believe He could have created things so that there would be hierarchy of the species in gradual increments. I believe a sober accounting of the data shows that the current status of this hierarchy is more in the imagination of taxonomists than otherwise, but I can work with the results either way.

I believe someone who thinks the rock formations show any clear evolutionary process, isn’t very familiar with the data as it actually exists; but I don’t know that I would count this as being evidence in favor of the existence of God, either. (Richard Dawkins certainly doesn’t, and he knows very well that the paleontological record is a jumbled up higgledy-piggledy which, due to the nature of the case, is not ever going to get any better than it is.)

I believe humans (in nominal operation) do possess special capabilities not explainable in principle by a naturalistic or atheistic reality either one (but moreso an atheistic reality). I don’t believe we are the only created entities to have those capabilities. I do believe you, John, have those capabilities. I don’t believe I have ever seen you accept that I think you have those capabilities, though I still have hope that one of these days you might.

I don’t particularly care whether we evolved from lower primates or not; and (unlike a rather stupid preacher of my acquaintence) I don’t see any point in being insulted at the notion that we came from slime. (Oh, no, we came from clean dirt instead! Snorf...)

I believe I may be the first person in my extended family of Christians (and their Christian friends) who ever questioned biological evolutionary theory much; and none of us have any theological problem with it whatsoever. I don’t much care whether b.e.t is true; but I do care in principle about whether it is being oversold (especially by people with a vested anti-theological interest in the selling.)

I believe God could have set things up with no evidence at all of unintelligent design, but I’m not sure He could have done so and still retained the existence of Nature as a distinctly not-God creation.

I don’t believe many (even very many) signs of merely reactive process development, would or could in principle cancel out any evidence of intelligent design; any more than such processes cancel out any actual evidence of intelligent design in a forensic investigation. I do believe that ID proponents in general, including the specialists, don’t often understand some special problems in their argument attempts, though; and that this frequently leads them into begging the question, among other things.

I happen to believe that God would need to create us with some kind of derivative structuring, commensurate with our system of Nature, in order for us as derivative entities to have ‘minds’. I don’t in principle restrict this to ‘brains’, but I don’t currently know what else would have done the job either (keeping in mind other considerations). I don’t believe the structures would necessarily be recognizeable as such by us, if entities originally native to a different Nature altogether interacted with us.

I believe there is in fact geological evidence of the rivers mentioned in the Adam/Eve story; and I believe that any monuments made to A&E (if anyone in the story would even have wanted to make one) probably stayed in the Garden of Eden, and may still be there now for all I know. Doubtless, still having access to ‘the Garden of Eden’ (whatever that was/is) would itself be more impressive than any statues, though.

I don’t believe the Ark is “precisely” located by “the Bible” at all, so I don’t expect the Ark (if it exists) to be “precisely” located there. I do believe there are some peculiar structures in various places, including one with long-standing historical presence in ancient records up through modern times that was clearly photographed by the CIA (as has been publicly admitted) which appears to be being progressively uncovered by glacial melting. I have no idea whether this or another ship-like thing in a very different area will be verified to be a former zoo for pairs of baby animals (or whatever); or that it rode through some kind of high flood to its current resting place; or why, if these things are verified, this would count as evidence God exists and Christianity is true. For all I know they will be discovered to be something different that could have nevertheless inspired the stories as guesses to their origin; which I’ll think is very interesting, and perhaps slightly disappointing to the romantic in me, but which will not affect my faith one jot (since my faith isn’t in the “Ark” or “the Flood” or in “Adam and Eve” or in “Gen 1/2” or even in “the Bible” per se.)

I believe there is some significant evidence of a worldwide flood-type catastrope (or possibly more than one of them), but I don’t see why this would count as evidence that God and Christianity are true (especially for a sceptic) even if accepted.

Incidentally, I also happen to believe there is very good and widespread (if individually incidental) evidence that dinosaurs and men have, and still do, cohabit the planet. I don’t believe that this, if verified better than it is, would be any evidence in favor of believing that God and Christianity are true, or even that evolution per se is not true. I believe that if evolutionary theory can survive surviving coelecanths, it can survive much younger surviving dinosaurs.

I believe that if some woman was buried alive by salinic ash, and someone found her still there today, and verified by DNA testing (if that was necessary) that she had been buried alive by salinic ash from some kind of volcanic event, that this would be exactly zero evidence that God and Christianity are true, though it would of course be evidence that the Biblical story of Lot was more historical than some people believed. If her DNA rearranged into letters spelling “TURN OR BURN J’OFTUS, THIS MEANS YOU” and caught on fire, this might be considered to be evidence of God’s existence, but I suspect it would also be suspected to be a prank. However, I have no doubt that over-credulous people who have a slippery grasp on the issues, might take the discovery of Lot’s wife as evidence that God exists and Christianity is true.

I believe there is evidence that Semites lived in Egypt as slaves for about the time mentioned in the Bible, after having been high-rankers in the Egyptian ruling class; and that they migrated rather forcefully into Palestine sometime afterward; and that they lived east of the Jordan for some time before the migration (doing copper mining and such). I don’t believe the evidence is, at this time, non-controversial, but such as it is it does square with the Biblical account (allowing for normal variances in ancient chronicle). I don’t believe that if the evidence did become non-controversial, it would count as evidence that God exists and Christianity is true. I do believe that some uncritical people would make giant category jumps and try to impress others to that conclusion. I have a hard time believing you, Johm, would be that credulous, even though you seem to say you would be. {g}

I believe a lot of the ‘difficulties’ even in Gleason Archer’s book (which I consider to be mediocre at best), can be traced to normal confusions, which account for a lot of the 450 pages.

I believe God could have predicted any number of natural disasters, and still could do so, but clearly doesn’t. I am not sure God could have created a universe that would completely lack them, but I am sure that He could have created a species that could deal with them better than we do in many of various ways. I have a pretty strong expectation that He did originally do that, and that we currently aren’t in that original condition. I believe these are things to be worked out after a bunch of other things have been worked through first in topical order; but if someone starts here and works backward I can hardly blame them for coming to a different set of conclusions.

I personally wish that the prophetic setup was different than it currently is, but it clearly isn’t, and I don’t blame people for having problems with that.

While I believe God could manifest Himself in every age and do the same miracles He did as Jesus, I don’t believe this would in fact make much sense in relation to the reason He came as Jesus in the first place (and in fact would tend to undermine His own goals in regard not only to our species but some other entities, too). At least, while I could expect the prophetic situation to be better than it is, I myself wouldn’t expect God to simply do repeat show-ups of the sort suggested.

I believe shows of power of the kind requested would be more distracting and likely to get across the wrong idea, than otherwise; and I notice that in the canonical Gospels Jesus seems to think much the same thing, even though He goes ahead and does them for charity’s sake while He’s here and as secondary evidence for people to accept. I also notice a strong story thematic to the effect that the power displays did in fact mislead the disciples about what they could expect from the Messiah, and that Jesus tried to correct them on this, and that by the end of any of the stories there’s still precious little evidence that they’ve “gotten it” yet.

I wish Christians were overwhelmingly better people by far; but I’m grateful Christians are as good as they are. {s} I believe some of the lack of progress is due to some bad theological misunderstandings, still being retained today (or being thrown out with too much else of the other). I believe that often sceptics are complaining about the bad theological misunderstandings, for which I can hardly blame them. {s!} (Let’s see--should I diss a sceptic for rejecting a technical heresy... hm...)

I wish God would in fact authorize more of us to heal and grant prayers to honest and sorrowing supplicants, than He apparently does. But I suspect there are reasons relating to power displays and our own righteousness-and-understanding that make this a bad strategic choice in the long run, among other things.

I believe “even the most hardened sceptic” would, by definition, shirk from accepting clear and specific prophecies about the virgin birth, life, nature, mission, death, etc. of the Messiah in the OT. I know hardened sceptics who shirk from accepting clear and specific characteristics of their own existence as responsible thinking creatures! That being said, I believe the OT prophecies are not as clear as they could be (of course); and that when I’m writing a novel and doing foreshadowing I don’t always give more than hints about what’s going to happen later, either, for various reasons.

I believe it’s fair enough to say that in summation the OT prophecies of the Messiah paint a generally recognizeble picture, taken together; and I believe that if things were more particular sceptics would be simply leaning more toward total invention based on ‘the prophecies’. As it is, the usage looks more like hindsight fitting, which points incidentally toward historical veracity in the reports. I don’t believe that a sceptic per se should get all panicky about that, either. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t.

I believe the “evidence” of the Gospels “growing incrementally over the years” as in a legendary development theory, is largely an imaginary construct of the theorists themselves. I would be more likely to go with alteration and addition for local polemical reasons myself, as a sceptical theory.

I believe very exceedingly strongly that if the Gospel accounts were “all the same”, we’d simply have more cries of mere plagiarism than we currently do whenever the Gospel accounts are pretty much “the same”. I have difficulty believing that you, John, would be willing to accept “all the same” Gospels as increased evidence of veracity. I believe there’s a healthy balance between similarity and difference expected when evaluating whether texts are legitimately reporting events of the same life--too similar and the witnesses can’t count as independent (merely copied); too different, and mere invention becomes the charge (as frequently happens with GosJohn; and your own charge here, John, apparently.)

I believe the Gospels could have been written at about the same time months after Jesus arose from the dead; and that there’s decent evidence they’re based on recollections actually written down about that time or soooner! I believe it’s interesting that as the dates of composition get pushed further and further back by more and more scholar estimations across the board, the grumbling about composition timing gets pushed further back, too. I believe we should try to figure out when the things were in fact put together, though, and make do with what we have.

I believe the “implausibility” about the women not telling others is just as likely to be an accidental artifact of a truncated text; and that the “implausibility” about soldiers guarding the tomb knowing Jesus was risen even though they were asleep at the time, doesn’t even match up with the story details as given.

I believe if Herod and/or Pilate had converted because of evidence that Jesus had risen from the grave, then they would doubtless be treated like Rabbi Solly who actively prosecuted the Christians (and so presumably knew relevant facts about the grave-rising claim but didn’t believe it). i.e., some people would think this was great evidence, and other people would think they had a brain hemmorage or were just making it up because they were pagans at heart and/or for gaining power over credulous pagan people, etc.

I believe there is incidental evidence that a lot more rabbis converted over than even the Christians really ever knew about, and that their influence continued quietly among mainstream Judaism through-and-after the holocaust of 70CE, for several centuries afterward.

I believe if either Herod or Pilate had declared Christianity to be the new religion of their territories, they would have been immediately zorched by Rome (and/or each other, assuming only one converted.) Personally, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Pilate did decide the man had risen from the grave, though he would likely have had only a pagan notion of what that meant. There is evidence that his wife Claudia Procula would have been prepared to believe more fully, and for all we know may have done so. Believing it and being prepared to do something portentous about it are two different things, though.

I honestly don’t know what to believe about the Shroud of Turin; and I let other people hash that out. {g}

John W. Loftus said…
Consequently, while it may look cute for your readers (or for some of them anyway), it only gives us ground for believing that we should never take you seriously on any single discussion again, ever.

If this is truly what you think then you should've stopped with that sentence.

Besides whether you do or not makes little difference to me since many others will, just wait and see.

When it comes to responding to what you wrote I'm reminded of what Stephen Law said in response to a question: “Anything complete enough will be so long that no one will read it anyway, and anything that is short enough to actually be read will be trivial and poorly executed.”

All I can do is to point you to my book, which you'll probably never read until a friend or relative deconverts as a result of it. If that never happens then you probably won't read it, and as a result you'll never learn how I would answer you.
JD Walters said…
As a scientist myself (studying neuroscience) your idea of 'scientific' evidence for God is puzzling, even repugnant. For centuries the ability of the human mind to exercise reason to comprehend the world and the apparent 'fit' between the human mind and natural processes (so that we can understand them mathematically) has been one of the most convincing arguments FOR the existence of God. And I wouldn't have it any other way. Scientific discovery is one of the greatest intellectual joys a person can have (think of Einstein calling his realization of the equivalence principle 'the happiest thought of my life'). Why would you deprive us of this joy and more importantly, why would God? Why on earth would the scientific inexplicability of the world be an argument for the existence of God?

But maybe what you really have in mind is not so much explicability as the idea of NATURALISTIC explicability, that the world can be explained using naturalistic processes and theories, and that that somehow creates problems for seeing the handiwork of God in the natural world. But here again the greatest scientific and philosophical minds would disagree with you. Take Descartes, writing centuries before Darwin:

"But it is certain (and this is an opinion commonly held among theologians) that the action by which God conserves the world is precisely the same action by which he created it; so that even if he had never given it, at the beginning, any other form but that of chaos, provided he established the laws of nature and applied his conserving activity to make nature function just as it does ordinarily, one can believe-without belittling the miracle of creation-that by such activity alone all the things which are purely material could have been able, as time went on, to make themselves as we now see them. And their nature is much easier to conceive, when one sees them gradually coming to be in this manner, than when one considers them only in their completed state." (Discourse on Method)

And then we come to Darwin himself:

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved." (Origin of Species; I am fully aware of the changes in Darwin's own religious thinking, which is why I have not posted the form of the quote which adds 'by the Creator' but I think his insight still stands)

It reveals an impoverished and intellectually unexciting vision of God indeed who would use the inexplicability of the world as a sign of His presence. If that's the kind of God you worshipped when you were a Christian, then I don't believe in that God either!

P.S. Interestingly this very post also points to the kind of 'present-day' evidence you have been demanding. If you'll read the article you will find an example of a Muslim who converted when a local witch doctor could not heal a child, which they sent to a Christian instead. After laying hands on the child it was healed.
John W. Loftus said…
JD said...Why would you deprive us of this joy and more importantly, why would God? Why on earth would the scientific inexplicability of the world be an argument for the existence of God?

Because it has led so many people away from God. And if these people end up in hell when God could easily have done otherwise, despite the joy of understanding the world, he did an insufferable wrong. At the minimum he could have started his revelation out with these words:

"In the beginning God created an immeasurable universe of billions of stars, some of which are billions and billions of miles (cubits) away, through a process that took billions of years out of which he finally created the sun, moon, and a spherical earth which revolves around the sun. On it he created water, land, the beasts of the sea, and eventually every living thing on it through stages as one species evolved into the next one. Finally he created human beings to rule over everything he created."

I just don't see why God didn’t reveal this, if he exists, or why ancient people couldn't have had a good grasp of what he said. It certainly would be easily understood, and would not be later undermined by the findings of modern astronomy. If God had created Adam and Eve just like we read in Genesis then he also created the very words they used to communicate, and if that’s so he could’ve created their language in such a way that they could’ve understood any of the terms involved, like “billions,” or “universe” or “miles.” By stating that the earth was spherical or that it went around the Sun would’ve done wonders for Biblical credibility with the dawn of modern science, since it would predate what science would later discover.
John W. Loftus said…
Let me anticipate some of your objections from my book:

Apologists will argue that ancient cosmological beliefs were not important for God to correct; since all he wanted to do was to let humans to know that it was HE who created it. But when we reflect on the Galileo affair and the irreparable harm it did to the Christian faith once astronomers understood the vastness and age of the universe, one can only shake her head in utter amazement God didn’t foresee that because he didn’t reveal this, it would lead many of us to doubt the Bible. I am an atheist because this very problem started me down the road of doubt. Does God really not care about the fact he didn't tell human beings the truth about the universe? By not doing so, God has produced many unbelievers who don’t see any true divine revelation in the Bible!

Apologists will object that if God had revealed this to the ancient world it would’ve been laughed at by the ancients who knew differently, just like Socrates was laughed at in Aristophanes’ play called, “The Clouds,” for suggesting rain came from the clouds rather than from the sky itself. Several things can be said about this objection. In the first place, if God had directly revealed this to Adam and Eve then all humanity would’ve accepted what God revealed. It would be the consensus opinion which would require evidence to prove differently. Secondly, if God actually did the many miracles claimed in the Bible, they would be considered strong evidence to believe what he said about the universe as well. Thirdly, God could also have provided Adam and Eve with the knowledge to confirm what he said by telling them how to make a telescope, for instance. Fourthly, if God had revealed the truth about the universe then human beings, especially believers, would find ways to confirm what he said, just like believers today try to confirm the stories in the Bible. So revealing this would also speed up what we know about the universe, and since it predated our discoveries, it would be strong evidence that the God of the Bible exists. Lastly, we must place this lack of divine foresight in the context of other things God could’ve revealed, but didn’t. He could’ve revealed to us how to discover penicillin; but didn’t. He could’ve unambiguously condemned slavery; but he didn’t. He could’ve condemned honor killings, witch burnings, and Inquisitions, but he didn’t. In fact, the Bible does not contain one single statement that could not have been written by a person living in that time period. The best explanation for this is that the God of the Bible doesn’t exist.
Jason Pratt said…
{{When it comes to responding to what you wrote I'm reminded of what Stephen Law said in response to a question: “Anything complete enough will be so long that no one will read it anyway, and anything that is short enough to actually be read will be trivial and poorly executed.”}}

Strangely, that was my critique of your run-on sentence attempt at establishing what you’d accept as a debate topic. Which critique you seemed to have been deriding a moment or so earlier. Hm.

Incidentally, I wasn’t expecting you to respond to all that; much less have I ever required you (or anyone else) to try to answer all those positions at once in order for a debate to be worth my time. Though notably the length of my reply was conditioned by the topical breadth of your own comment. You gave a long set of positions on a long list of topics; so did I on the same topics. What did you expect anyone to reply with, if at all? “The Christian faith should be accepted by modern civilized scientifically literate people”?

{{All I can do is to point you to my book, which you'll probably never read until a friend or relative deconverts as a result of it. If that never happens then you probably won't read it, and as a result you'll never learn how I would answer you.}}

Which only makes sense as a reply if you never address the same topics in any similar way in your (very many) posts, here or elsewhere. I’ve registered some doubt about that before (while admitting it isn’t technically impossible.) You’ve so far declined to confirm that you never make and have never made substantially similar arguments in comments and journal posts over the years, though. This would be a good opportunity to confirm it, if so.

{{Let me anticipate some of your [JD’s] objections from my book:}}

So, was this the first time you’ve ever commented in a fashion paralleling your book’s material? Because it looks rather similar to positions taken back up in your macro-topical post... and elsewhere... for years...

{{But when we reflect on the Galileo affair and the irreparable harm it did to the Christian faith once astronomers understood the vastness and age of the universe...}}

...we realize that astronomers had been routinely doing this for many centuries within Christendom already, and that the Pope (who was one of Galileo’s fan club, the Galliesti,) wasn’t interested in trying to snuff it, but was interested in making sure that satirical jibes popularly printed by Galileo attacking one of his own strongest supporters (i.e. the Pope) weren’t going to be tolerated in the dicey Italian (not to say European) political situation of the time. After which the Pope commissioned alterations to transform various monestaries and churches all over Europe into solar observatories, in order to try to get some empirical evidence one way or another for the particular outré claim being insisted upon by Galileo (geocentrism) primarily for philosophical reasons.

Or was that in your book and you decided not to mention it, in order to retain your book’s unique and powerful value compared to your comments and journal posts? (I seriously doubt JD is only aware of the standard Voltarian account of Galileo, either.)

Not that this is a huge point pro or con either way; but why try to impress people with mere propaganda when we do in fact have access to historical records of the time (certainly better than for 1st century Palestine, as I’m sure you’ll agree when it suddenly occurs to you that this will look helpful to you) and can draw a more nuanced and realistic (not to say corrected) account of what happened?

Jason Pratt said…
Also, I think it's funny (though typical) that when I post up a long series of positions where easily more than 70% of them (maybe more like 90%?) either would count as a sceptical position, or involve dismissing attempts at trying to make a believing position out of them, or overtly admit that I wish things were different too, or overtly agree that I don't blame sceptics for having problems with them; or even overtly agree that nonbelievers are entirely correct (even more orthodox!) to crit believers on some points; your reply boils down to a charge that I'm just ignoring problems sceptics have and am afraid to discuss them.

One might have thought that at least you'd consider it 'evidence' that 'evangelicals become more liberal when exposed to scholarship'. (Though incidentally in my case it probably runs the other way, as I amusedly noted in one particular topic.)


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